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Pacific Heights: A visit to Bishop Museum's new Pacific Hall

Pacific Hall's atrium, with its inlaid wood floor map of the Pacific, and stairway mural depicting migration pathways. Photo: Bishop Museum.

Docent Georgia Wong stands at the entrance to the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum’s Pacific Hall with her arms extended, beckoning us closer.

“I’m going to take you on a voyage,” she says to the half-dozen visitors who have assembled for a guided tour of the museum’s newly renovated and renamed hall. As I move forward with the group, my gaze is pulled upward to scenes of marine life and rolling waves playing across a 29-foot video screen suspended from the hall’s second-floor ceiling. The moving images bathe the hall in a gentle blue light, fitting for an exhibition space designed to celebrate the 6,000-year history of human migration across the Pacific Ocean.

Wong’s first stop on our tour is a large map of the Pacific, inlaid into the hall’s gleaming wood floor. Pointing to Asia and the vast Pacific beneath our feet, she tells the story of the countless adventurers who left their home islands, traveling thousands of miles across open sea in voyaging canoes, their destinations often unknown. Wong then turns our attention toward a modern mural at the top of the hall’s grand staircase, depicting migration pathways, stars and canoes, all flowing over expansive ocean.

 “All of the people of Oceania are in [the mural] because we are still here,” Wong says. “There is a story and a pattern to Polynesia. It is not just the voyage. In the Islands, there are so many interactions.”

Goodbye, Polynesian Hall. Welcome, Pacific Hall.

Nestled in the urban Honolulu neighborhood of Kalihi, the 125-year-old Bishop Museum campus is Hawai‘i’s premier research and cultural museum, home to the largest collection of historic, scientific and cultural Polynesian artifacts in the world. The museum’s first and oldest buildings, Hawaiian Hall and adjacent Polynesian Hall, have always been its crown jewels, constructed in the Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style popular in the 1890s and housing the bulk of the museum’s Hawaiian and Polynesian artifacts.

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